What Does a Feminist Look Like?

The question about what signals feminism, sartorially, is something that’s at the heart of IPF’s “mission” and something that’s been discussed a good deal here (see, for instance, A-Dub’s post on the gendered assumptions associated with apparel). While the academic world might sometime treat the question of fashion as frivolous and unimportant, clothing is still often intimately associated with who “counts” as appropriately feminist, inside and outside the academy. Like Anne noted today, those of us who dress in a relatively conventional approximation of feminine can sometimes feel a slight disconnect between our personal values and beliefs and the way these are perceived by others. But, as A-Dubs notes, there’s something to be said for upending these assumptions.
For me, this vexed question of apparel gets at the heart of my early associations with feminism. Like a number of others (LHdM and Cynthia, for instance), I was raised by parents who would very much have classified themselves as feminists. However, what I named as “Feminism-with-a-capital-F” was characterized my mom and her friends at the time and their investment in white, middle-class, second wave feminism — particularly their adoption of the New Age-y rhetoric of goddess-related ritual and the rejection of “The Beauty Myth” (my sister rather hilariously once made a bathing suit for the naked lady (or sort of) on the cover of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch). This seemed VERY unappealing to the young E-Jo who, even then, was disinterested in this level of earnestness. And if dressing in my mom’s acid-wash denim jumpsuit (well after the height of acid wash’s popularity) was what being a feminist looked like, even if I thought that equality between genders was self-evident and was happy to (unconsciously) reap the benefits gained by earlier generations of tireless crusaders, I was clearly NOT a feminist. It was only once I got to university and was made to read feminist and critical theory in a bunch of different classes that I began to realize that there existed a broader spectrum of feminisms and that this was about larger, systemic inequalities linked to all sorts of other things (I remember reading Gayle Rubin’s “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex” as a key moment).
Thus, despite the seeming frivolity of things like style blogs, I think there’s something quietly radical about what we’ve all embarked on here in our various ways: demonstrating the different ways of dressing like a feminist. While many of the privileges that underwrote my mom’s versions of feminism are replicated in the blog world (and the rest of the world, generally) and could stand to be more clearly interrogated, there’s a fantastic level of discussion about what style means and allows. Further, interactions with students (female and otherwise) act as a continual reminder of the work that needs to be done and, while I’m not always as up front about my feminism with them as others, I like to think that my clothes are performing an important pedagogical interruption to their assumptions about “what a feminist looks like.”
Tunic: Old Navy
Pants and belt: NY & Co.
Blue flats: Joe
Ring: gifted
Also, I wore pants and taught Virginia Woolf today. A reminder that so much of what both my students and I take for granted in our everyday lives is the direct result of feminist cultural and political action.

9 thoughts on “What Does a Feminist Look Like?

  1. It's been too long since I read all the entries here. One of the reasons I love this blog is that the writing is so good! You guys (girls, grrrls, womyn?) have these posts that make me think.I've never studied feminism. I watched my mom, who said she was a feminist. She would tell me things, like, don't be a slave to boys or men. She never taught me to cook. Her OCD made her make me clean up but I think should she had had a choice she probably would not have had either of us clean house. It was this limited view of what being a feminist was. Then my girlfriends in high school were all we're women, we're not not girls and it's womyn not wo-men, or wo-man. I learned that standing up for myself and what I believed to be right was bad. My guy friends didn't want to date because they thought I was uncontrollable and my girl friends thought I was just really loud.I was always in this weird mixed up world of thinking that women needed more respect, deserved it because we were just as human as the boys but I had no really good way of expressing myself. Anyway, this was a great post, another very interesting post. It has me thinking!And I love the pop of turquoise!

  2. It's been too long since I read all the entries here. One of the reasons I love this blog is that the writing is so good! You guys (girls, grrrls, womyn?) have these posts that make me think.I've never studied feminism. I watched my mom, who said she was a feminist. She would tell me things, like, don't be a slave to boys or men. She never taught me to cook. Her OCD made her make me clean up but I think should she had had a choice she probably would not have had either of us clean house. It was this limited view of what being a feminist was. Then my girlfriends in high school were all we're women, we're not not girls and it's womyn not wo-men, or wo-man. I learned that standing up for myself and what I believed to be right was bad. My guy friends didn't want to date because they thought I was uncontrollable and my girl friends thought I was just really loud.I was always in this weird mixed up world of thinking that women needed more respect, deserved it because we were just as human as the boys but I had no really good way of expressing myself. Anyway, this was a great post, another very interesting post. It has me thinking!And I love the pop of turquoise!

  3. Sheila: Thanks! I really like that combo too!Anne: I agree. I'm often struck by how many of my students claim to not be feminists — yet sit in a university classroom that wouldn't have been available to them even 50 years ago. K.Bean: These shoes are totally new workhorses. They'd been languishing in my office for almost a year, thus never really being worn, so I'm glad I brought them home. Rad: Aww, shucks. Thanks! I'm not sure that there is any remaining photographic evidence of the acid wash jumpsuit. Perhaps it's better left to the realm of myth? Trust me, though, it was the worst thing ever. A-Dubs: Dude. Never leave again. Charlotte: So true about Woolf. I forget how much I love her and then get back to her and remember. I particularly love the timid but growing love some of my students have for her. I'm teaching To The Lighthouse right now (which I adore) and it's striking how relevant it remains.

  4. Teaching Virginia Woolf is the best way I know to end–or begin–the week. And yes, we have her to thank for a lot of difficult thinking on the subject of feminism–made so clear that one has to think, of course.

  5. Further evidence that E-Jo will someday be the chair of everythign brilliant at a top North American University. So well said and so right on. I wish my mom thought of herself as a feminist (Blokey's mom did). Instead, she was bold, independent, ambitious, career minded, and the opposite of helicopter/doting, but yet she ascribed to traditional gender roles at home. This has all changed, though.I hope someday you can find a picture of said denim jumper.Finally,I dig the springy outfit- especially the shoes.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. Well said, all of it. I nodded voraciously throughout, and I think your students are lucky to have you.The purple and turquoise work really well together! Those turquoise shoes could be spring workhorses, methinks.

  7. Very well said! I like your summary of my thoughts, but clearly I could never put it so eloquently. I think the question of what a feminist literally looks like is so interesting, and young E-Jo's take on them being dressed in acid-washed denim amused me.I noted in my comments today that there's women out there who aren't feminists, but to your point, still reap the benefits of feminism. I don't have anything profound to add to that, but it's an interesting notion.

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